The National Indian Justice Center conducted a health impact assessment (HIA) of a proposed utility-scale solar project, focusing on potential health risks and benefits for neighboring Native American communities in the Mojave Desert. Key decision-makers included the federal Bureau of Land Management and Department of Defense, the California Energy Commission, and private developers.
The solar project has the potential to alter land and resources that are central to the cultural identities—a primary determinant of health—of the native populations. The HIA analyzed how changes in cultural well-being, such as reduced access to traditional foods, could affect substance use, mental health, and other outcomes. It also considered possible benefits of the renewable energy project, such as improved air quality, job creation, and added revenue that could support health and social services and water and sanitation infrastructure.
The HIA urged the Defense Department’s Fort Irwin team to consult with the Mojave Desert tribes to evaluate the proposed sites’ native plants, animals, and cultural landscapes before permitting the project. The HIA also suggested that the team conduct those evaluations in multiple seasons to develop reliable and accurate observations of year-round plant and animal life.
The National Indian Justice Center conducted the HIA while the state and federal environmental reviews were underway and used the assessment’s findings and recommendations to raise the profile of health considerations and mitigation measures to protect health in the final agency decision.
The HIA was conducted in collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management, the state energy commission, affected tribes, tribal leaders, and tribal health advocates.